I'll be headed to Melbourne, Australia in February of 2015 to study the Australian mandatory commercial building disclosure policy (CBD for short) thanks to a generous grant from the Fulbright Commission and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars.
Naturally, I get asked "What are you going to research?" and "Why Australia?" I'll attempt to answer the first question in this post, and the latter on another day.
Australia requires benchmarking of energy use in large office buildings and then public reporting of benchmarking results. Australia was among the first to move on this policy, and they have a head start on New York and the many other areas in the U.S. that followed. The policies are structurally similar as well, as the Australians rely on their NABERS system, which functions similarly to Energy Star Portfolio Manager. The Australian office market is also quite similar to the US market.
Mandatory benchmarking is an interesting policy. If you are a fan of free markets, then it is hard to take the position that information about energy use should not be available to interested parties. But availability aside, what does this information actually do in the marketplace? What do people do with it?
For office buildings that waste a lot of energy, disclosure seems like the first step of a 12 step program. Admit you have a problem. The next 11 steps are not quite as clear.
I'll be traveling to the other side of the world to try and better understand what happens after step one in Australia. Are owners and operators of poor performing buildings irritated and motivated to make changes? Or are they unsurprised and content to compete on price for tenants? Does anything change in these building other than a slightly larger stack of required paperwork?